By / Jan 11

Welcome to episode #348 on The ERLC Podcast where our goal is to help you think biblically about today’s cultural issues. Today, we’re starting a new series that will focus on life. In this first episode, we’ll discuss what you should know about the pro-life movement after Roe.

Dignity of all human life

God’s Word, from the very beginning, affirms the dignity of all human life. Genesis 1 tells us that at the end of the creation process, “God said, ’Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ … 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This reveals to us that every person is made in the imago Dei, the image of God. And this means that every life, regardless of age, ability, or any other feature, has infinite value that cannot be taken away. The rest of the Bible unwaveringly affirms this truth. 

Pro-life movement after Roe

The pro-life movement is grounded in this reality and, most fundamentally, has sought to protect our tiniest citizens from the horrors of abortion. The culmination of this work was realized on June 24, 2022, a historic day of celebration as the Supreme Court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to abortion and return abortion legislation back to the states. This was a long-time unifying goal of the pro-life movement. According to The New York Times, since the court’s ruling, abortion access has dropped overall, with 21 states banning or restricting it and others reinforcing abortion protections.

However, the fight for life and the mission of the pro-life movement is far from over, and there’s still much work to be done on the local, state, and federal levels. New frontiers have arisen, with abortion tourism, or travel for abortions across state lines, and chemical abortions, or abortion pills, gaining momentum across our country. 

As we begin our series, we’ll talk to several guests who will give us a clear picture of the current state of the pro-life movement since last year’s historic Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. 

This week’s podcast guests: Benjamin Watson, Herbie Newell, and Dr. Bart Barber

You’ll hear from Benjamin Watson, a former NFL tight end, as well as a writer, speaker, and activist. He is the author of, “The New Fight for Life: Roe, Race, and a Pro-Life Commitment to Justice.” He serves as vice president of strategic relationships with the Human Coalition, one of the largest pro-life and pro-woman organizations in the country. Along with his wife, Kirsten, he is the founder of The Watson 7 Foundation, a nonprofit focused on strengthening families. The Watsons live in Georgia with their seven children.

Also joining us is Herbie Newell, president & executive director of Lifeline Children’s Services and its ministry arms. He holds a Master’s of Business Administration in Accounting from Samford University. Under Herbie’s leadership, Lifeline has increased international outreach to 25 countries through adoption and strategic orphan care, obtained licensure in 17 states, and established the foster care arm at Lifeline. 

Finally, you’ll hear from Dr. Bart Barber, who is pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Our goal on the ERLC Podcast is to help you think biblically about today’s cultural issues. As we discuss important topics that matter to Southern Baptists, you might have additional questions. We’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail us at [email protected] and let us know how you’re processing the conversations featured on the podcast. 

And just a reminder, we want to make sure you are kept up to date about the important work the ERLC is doing on behalf of Southern Baptists. The best way to do that is by joining us at ERLC.com/updates. Signing up for email updates allows you to hear directly from us about our work and ways we are serving you on the issues that matter most to Southern Baptists. 

The ERLC podcast is a production of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is produced by Lindsay Nicolet and Elizabeth Bristow. Technical production is provided by Owens Productions.  It is edited and mixed by Mark Owens.

By / Jul 12

With last year’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning the precedent of Roe v. Wade, the organization March for Life has shifted its attention toward changing the hearts of Americans to make abortion unthinkable by focusing on the state and federal level in a post-Roe world. 

March for Life is the largest annual human rights demonstration in the world. The Dobbs case was an incredible pro-life victory that encouraged March for Life, and the organization is hopeful for the future. However, the work they must do is greater than ever before. 2023 marked 50 years of March for Life, and the past five decades have proven that they are up for the task of fighting for life even with the new challenges ahead in a post-Roe world. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said, “Yes, there is still so much work to be done, but we are encouraged by the fruits of our labors so far, and we are emboldened by the incredible dedication and passion of our marchers to take these next steps in carrying out our joyful mission.”

Focusing to the state level, too

In 2023, the March for Life in Washington, D.C., shifted from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to the steps of the Capitol. Along with this shift, the new wave of future efforts will focus on the states, continuing to advocate for women and children as the decisions now lie in the hands of the legislators. The organization hopes to march in 10 states in 2023 and to be in all 50 states in the next five to seven years.

Instead of fizzling out in a post-Roe America, March for Life has grown. 

The purpose behind these state marches is to expand the voices that have been heard in Washington for years. The leadership of March for Life understands how powerful it can be for unified masses of people declaring with one voice their commitment to protecting life. They want to send a message of clarity to legislators through the state marches. 

March for Life is also committed to increasing support for pregnant women. Violence and misinformation have threatened the work of over 3,000 pregnancy care centers and maternity homes that provide care for expectant mothers and their children across the country.

“The Supreme Court decision, contrary to the false and widely held belief, did not make abortion illegal across the country,” Mancini said. “Rather, it gave people the chance to fight for life through the democratic process.”

Countering abortion activisim in a post-Roe world

In giving pro-life activists victory, the Dobbs decision also gave pro-abortion activists the opportunity for exploitation and to induce a spirit of fear in Americans. Their efforts threaten thousands of unborn lives in pro-abortion states, as they seek to make abortion policies even more extreme than they were under Roe. Many proposals of pro-abortionists include abortion up until birth. 

Under these circumstances, education related to life, such as how preborn babies feel pain as early as 15 weeks’ gestation, is a key part of March for Life’s mission. The more the public is educated on topics like fetal development and abortion, the more they will support common sense limits. 

The task of marching at the state level is daunting, but the leadership at March for Life is facing this new era with enthusiasm and faith. 

“Our fight, which for the last five decades had been relegated to the courts, is now being waged in Congress, in our statehouses and in our communities,” Mancini said. “The landscape has changed, but our mission to create a culture of love and life where abortion is unthinkable remains the same.”

By / Jun 23

In the year since the landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, there has been a significant shift in the landscape of abortion in the United States. Soon after the Dobbs decision, many states began to impose abortion bans and restrictions. 

Abortion bans

States where abortion was banned included: 

July 2022

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Mississippi 
  • Missouri 
  • Oklahoma 
  • South Dakota 
  • Texas
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

August 2022

  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana

September 2022

  • Idaho 
  • Tennessee

Overall, almost half of all states have imposed some sort of restrictions, especially in the early months of pregnancy. The result is that there has been a notable decrease in the total number of abortions in America. 

According to new estimates provided by the Society of Family Planning’s national research project, #WeCount, there were an estimated 93,575 fewer legal abortions in states that banned or severely restricted abortion for at least one week in the nine-month period after Dobbs. The biggest declines were in: 

  • Texas (an estimated 24,420 fewer abortions), 
  • Georgia (14,415), 
  • Tennessee (10,235), 
  • Louisiana (6,755), 
  • Arizona (6,000), 
  • and Alabama (5,715). 

A challenging reality

However, the data also reveal a challenging reality: many individuals, unable to obtain abortions in their home states, are traveling to states where abortion is still unrestricted​. Despite the overall decline in abortion rates, there has been, according to reporting by FiveThirtyEight, an increase in the number of legal abortions in states where the procedure remains widely available​​. 

The number of legal abortions in states where abortion remained mostly available rose by 69,285 in the same period. The states with the largest increases were: I

  • llinois (an estimated 12,580 more abortions), 
  • Florida (12,460), 
  • North Carolina (7,975), 
  • California (4,350), 
  • and Colorado (4,140). 

However, many states where abortion remains legal with few restrictions, especially on the West Coast and in the Northeast, did not experience surges in abortions.

Positive trends

The overall results indicate there were 24,290 fewer legal abortions between July 2022 and March 2023, compared to a pre-Dobbs baseline. Each of these represents a precious life saved, a testament to the effort of the pro-life community over the past 50 years. 

The trend is also moving in a positive direction. Abortion had been increasing in the U.S. since 2017, and abortion rates were increasing in the months before the Dobbs decision. In the two months before Dobbs, the average monthly number of abortions provided by clinicians in the U.S. was 81,730 while in the nine months after Dobbs, the average monthly number of abortions was 79,031. The national abortion rate also decreased from 13.4 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in April 2022 to 12.6 per 1,000 women. 

This suggests that while state-level restrictions are essential, the fight to protect preborn life must extend beyond the borders of pro-life states. We must continue to forcefully advocate for life-affirming laws and resources in all states and at the federal level. It’s also crucial for pro-life Christians in America to intensify our efforts in offering love, support, and resources to those faced with unexpected pregnancies. By providing a robust support system, we can help show the viability of life-affirming alternatives to abortion.

The post-Dobbs era has brought a season of change and challenge, but it’s also a season ripe with opportunities for the Christian pro-life community. It’s a call to put our faith into action, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to continue to uphold the sanctity of every human life. 

By / Jun 22

On the morning of June 24, 2022, the abortion landscape in the United States changed dramatically with the release of the final opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. This decision overturned the horrific precedents in both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and sent the fight for life in the United States into a new chapter.

The majority of the effects of the Dobbs decision have been on the state level. By returning the issue of abortion back to the people, each state had the opportunity to decide for itself what type of laws and environment it would establish. Over the last year we’ve seen 14 states completely ban abortion and six states pass laws severely restricting it, but at the same time, we’ve seen other states become abortion “destinations” passing incredibly extreme laws and incentivizing women to travel to their states to have an abortion. 

Alongside these efforts to restrict abortion, we’ve seen many states adopt robust funding and resources to assist new families and women experiencing unplanned pregnancies. For example, in North Carolina, a recently passed bill that prohibits abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy also makes $20 million available over the next two years to fund paid parental leave for state employees and expands access to healthcare for women and children.

Though we rejoice at the progress many states have made toward establishing a culture of life, the Dobbs decision did not rid federal legislators of their ability or responsibility to act on this issue. The federal government still has a role to play in ending abortion. 

Over the last year, the ERLC has advocated in numerous ways to push back on attempts from both the executive and legislative branches to expand abortion access following Dobbs and to urge our lawmakers to move forward policies that protect life. This article provides a brief look back at how our federal officials have responded to this monumental decision

Congress

Following the Dobbs decision, congressional Democrats wasted no time in putting forward pro-abortion measures for a vote in both the House of Representatives and Senate. Once again, the misnamed Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify a right to abortion up until the moment of birth, was brought to the floor for a vote. This is the most pro-abortion bill to ever pass the House, and the ERLC remains strongly opposed to this piece of legislation. In addition to the Women’s Health Protection Act, we continue to see efforts from congressional Democrats to: 

  • label the work of pregnancy resource centers as “misinformation,” 
  • expand coverage of abortion travel, 
  • and punish states that have adopted pro-life laws.

The Dobbs decision also spurred on the House to pass legislation codifying a right to contraception, including many abortifacients, and stripping away important religious liberty protections. Though this bill did not move forward in the Senate, a related bill, the Respect for Marriage Act, did move forward, eventually becoming law late last year. The Respect for Marriage Act codified and expanded the right to same-sex marriage, amidst fears that the 2015 Obergefell decision, like Roe, could be overturned. The ERLC strongly opposed both of these bills and worked for many months against the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act. 

This flurry of activity around abortion also made the annual hard-fought fight to maintain long standing pro-life policy riders in our government’s appropriations bills such as the Hyde amendment more difficult. Despite intense opposition, these riders, which prevent the use of government funding for abortion—saving innumerable lives and protecting the consciences of millions of American taxpayers—were preserved.

As we entered into a new Congress this January, we began to see some positive steps toward protecting life with the passage of the Born Alive Survivors Protection Act in the House. Unfortunately, other pro-life pieces of legislation such as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion or the SAVE Moms and Babies Act, which would significantly restrict chemical abortion, have stalled in Congress. 

After failed pro-life ballot measures in several states and recent attempts to make pro-life measures seem electorally harmful, some lawmakers have tried to step away from pro-life legislation, insisting that only state governments, rather than federal legislatures, have a role to play. The ERLC has, and will continue to urge lawmakers that Congressional action is needed to further protect life across all 50 states. Though Dobbs did send the issue of abortion to the states, it did not prohibit Congress from also taking action. 

The Biden administration

After the Dobbs decision, President Biden asserted his commitment to federally protected abortion access in place of the precedent established by Roe. Following the decision, through his power of executive orders, Biden signed the “Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Services” order, mandating the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to secure abortion access. This order has been used by federal agencies to push forward pro-abortion policies that expanded access to the abortion pill, paid for abortion travel, and used taxpayer resources to fund “education” efforts around how to access abortion.

Following that executive order, a number of agencies made drastic policy changes, in violation of federal pro-life protections, to expand abortion access. Last fall, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced an Interim Final Rule expanding access to abortion by amending current regulations and removing an exclusion on abortion counseling and abortions in the medical benefits package for veterans and eligible family members. This change in rules creates taxpayer-funded abortions by the VA. Similarly, the Department of Defense changed its policies to cover time off and travel expenses for service members seeking abortions. 

Most recently, HHS has adapted HIPPA to limit sharing of personal “reproductive health” information. This new rule establishes that healthcare providers and other related entities may violate HIPAA if they comply with investigations into illegal abortion and gender transition procedures. The rule compromises important protections for those who have been abused in order to expand abortion access.

Additional moves from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the last year have also made chemical abortion drugs more accessible than ever before. Despite the fact that 1 in 5 women who take these drugs experience a complication requiring further medical treatment, the FDA has now permanently moved to allow the abortion pill to be obtained through the mail or at local pharmacies. 

As the Biden administration has used every lever of power available to them since the Dobbs decision, the ERLC has pushed back on each of these initiatives and continues to advocate for their reversal. 

The courts

While the abortion debate has largely moved away from what was once the centerpiece of advocacy—the courts—a challenge to mifepristone, one of the two major chemical abortion drugs, is forcing the courts to once again take up questions of abortion. 

Recently, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard this case which both challenges the initial approval of mifepristone in 2000 and the subsequent removal of important safety measures that have been involved in its prescribing. The suit claims that the FDA “failed America’s women and girls when it chose politics over science and approved chemical abortion drugs for use in the United States. And it has continued to fail them by repeatedly removing even the most basic precautionary requirements associated with their use.” 

This case could result in mifepristone being entirely removed from the market for elective abortions or severely restricted. A decision in this important case is expected in the coming days and will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court. The ERLC is closely watching this case and will continue to advocate for the court to rule in favor of life.

This past year has seen incredible victories for life, but it has also shown us how much work remains to be done. New estimates suggest that as many as 94,000 lives have been saved because of the Dobbs decision between July 2022 and March 2023. We celebrate that each of these precious ones made in God’s image have been granted life, and the ERLC will continue to advocate at both the state and federal level for each and every life to be protected and valued. 

ERLC interns Sam Haymore, Jared Smith, and Tim Mackall contributed to this article.

By / Jun 21

A year ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and drastically altered access to abortion in our nation. Millions of pro-life activists had worked and prayed for this moment. Yet, the nature of the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization didn’t outlaw abortion; it sent the decision-making back to the states, setting off a chain of events, some positive and life-saving, some predatory and destructive.

In my life, I have had the opportunity to live in a few different cities, in different states, each with their own culture. I was able to build relationships with pregnancy care providers in these places, visit their clinics, and support their sacrificial, God-honoring work. Every person I know that has worked in a pregnancy care center is a devoted Christian, a deep well of empathy, and a dynamic problem solver who has walked with many people through unimaginable circumstances.

As we recognize the anniversary of the monumental Dobbs case, we talked to two heroes who have provided a view of pro-life ministry in Tennessee and Illinois. It’s staggering to consider how different their experience has become. 

  • Andrew Wood is the executive director of Hope Resource Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. He hosts a weekly podcast, “A Conversation on Life,” and often speaks and writes on the issue of life around the country. The Hope Resource Center is a cost-free healthcare center for women offering medical care by licensed professionals for reproductive health concerns, education, and connection with community resources. 
  • Kathy Lesnoff worked as a medical assistant in an abortion clinic and is now the president/CEO of Mosaic Health. She currently oversees a staff of 12 with offices in Granite City and Fairview Heights, Illinois, just outside the city of St. Louis, Missouri. They also oversee a mobile medical unit parked next door to Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights.

This article will provide a portrait of today’s varied abortion landscape, as well as inspire churches and individuals in every community to consider how they might join in supporting mothers and families in new ways. 

Jill Waggoner: How did the Dobbs decision affect access to abortion in your area? 

Andrew Wood: My home state of Tennessee passed the “Human Life Protection Act” in 2019 and a “Heartbeat Bill” in 2020. The Dobbs decision on June 24, 2022, allowed for these bills to immediately make a difference across Tennessee. The reality on the ground here in Knoxville and across the state, however, was felt as the abortion providers quickly closed their doors or altered drastically the services they provided after the Dobbs decision. 

Kathy Lesnoff: Illinois has long been considered a “sanctuary state” for abortion. However, the Dobbs decision took this idea to a whole new level. As many states across the nation proceeded to pass laws that made abortion illegal or severely limited, Illinois opened three more abortion facilities along border cities. Additionally, Planned Parenthood launched a mobile medical unit for the sole purpose of providing abortions along state lines, thereby providing even more access to abortion in Illinois.

JW: How have abortion pills by mail or abortion tourism affected the families you serve? 

AW: We are well aware that women in Tennessee are seeking abortion pills via the mail and are even traveling across state lines into bordering states to access abortion providers that are unavailable in Tennessee. This awareness has prompted partnerships and cooperation with other pregnancy centers in bordering states so that we can assist and provide care for men and women that may be making that drive in one direction or another. We believe that these partnerships will only foster better environments to serve our patients. 

KL: Over 54% of abortions are now medical. Women are opting for the pill as they feel it is an easier option with less guilt attached. To meet this increased demand, more pregnancy centers, including Mosaic Health, are offering abortion pill reversal.

Mosaic has seen multiple patients from other states whose travel has been covered by their employer. We have witnessed an increase in abortion tourism as license plates from over 30 states were seen at a local abortion facility just last year alone.

JW: How has the abortion culture of your state changed since Dobbs

AW: Laws can certainly make a difference, but you don’t change the culture overnight with a piece of legislation. Abortion was the law of the land for five decades in this country and, although a giant shift was made via Dobbs, there is still much work to do in cultivating a ethic with a high value of life. 

In Tennessee, we have been successful in legislating a decline in abortion, and the state should be applauded for that, but we haven’t stopped there. We have also started the process of eliminating obstacles to parenting, fostering environments to allow for families to flourish, and are looking at ways to see public and private partnerships work together to better serve families in need. These partnerships and this work is designed to prevent unplanned pregnancies from ever becoming crisis pregnancies. 

KL: Mosaic Health’s Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) is parked by Planned Parenthood six days a week. Since the Dobbs reversal, we have seen a 72% increase in women seeking an abortion on the MMU. The Dobbs decision incited even more anger from the pro-choice left, and they have been motivated to stop pro-life efforts at all costs. Senate Bill 1909 is evidence of their determination to stop pregnancy centers from providing free, confidential services across the state of Illinois.

JW: How have your client numbers been in the last year? 

AW: We have certainly seen an increase of patients since June 24, 2022. This increase was not unexpected as we knew the abortion landscape would shift if and when Roe was overturned. Year after year we saw a 17% increase in pregnancy test appointments, and we provided more ultrasounds in 2022 than we had the previous six years. Unplanned pregnancy doesn’t take a holiday because of court decisions, new legislation, or pandemics. We have served for 26 years in Knoxville and have witnessed this firsthand year in and year out. 

KL: Since the Dobbs case leak, we have seen a 64% increase across all three of our locations in women considering abortion compared to the previous year.

JW: What are you hearing from the women that come to your center? What is new, and what is the same? 

AW: Our patients are looking for assistance. Some of them are not even aware a court decision was made or a law passed in Tennessee. Others are very aware of the options in front of them, the timelines they must adhere to if they are seeking to travel out of state, and what each state offers in terms of abortion services. 

We are also seeing some women feel a sense of freedom now that abortion is not an option in Tennessee. In the past, they have felt a burden or as if abortion was being thrust upon them due to their circumstances. They feel very different now that abortion has been removed, at least in Tennessee, from their decision-making process. 

Unfortunately, we are also hearing from patients that are getting little to no follow-up care after traveling out of state for an abortion. This lack of care is frustrating as women are forced to walk through these difficult days and decisions alone and with no oversight from the very ones that provided them with the abortion in the first place. 

KL: What is new is the urgency with which many want to have an abortion and as mentioned previously, the interest in the abortion pill. Many more women know there are gestational time limitations for the abortion pill. Also new is the amount of gender-confused patients we are serving.

What remains the same is that women are convinced abortion is the best option for their future. They are emboldened to choose abortion and empowered by the self-centeredness of the current culture.

JW: What do you see as the greatest need from churches and other pro-life partners in the coming days? 

AW: I have often answered this question with material needs. This need will never go away. However, I think our greatest need today is discipleship. We need a smooth onramp for our patients to get connected to the local church. We need our patients to be discipled by godly women. We need our patients’ significant others to be discipled by godly men. 

We hold to a high value of life in our pregnancy centers because God created life. In the same way, we hold a high value of marriage and parenthood. Our culture is good at detaching these good and godly things from each other. We shouldn’t be surprised when the next generation lives out this detached life as they are attending more baby showers than wedding showers. The answers our patients are seeking aren’t going to be found in the culture of detachment. Instead, the answer is found in Scripture, which is taught, discussed, and lived out in the local church. 

It is my prayer that pregnancy centers across this country would have church partners lined up seeking to assist, certainly, in material needs, but more importantly in the discipleship of men, women, and babies who are making their way to thousands of pregnancy centers every single day. 

Imagine that in 10 years this onramp from the pregnancy center to the local church is flourishing with families that value God, life, marriage, and parenthood. I believe this partnership is the key to the trajectory shift we so desperately need in today’s society. We must not divorce the life issue from the Great Commandment (Love God and love your neighbor) and the Great Commission (go and make disciples.) Once we understand this, we will be well positioned to serve, love, and disciple those in need. 

KL: The greatest need from churches is a boldness to proclaim the truth regarding the life issue from the pulpit. We are seeing an increased number of women claiming to be Christians choosing abortion. We need godly leadership and voices who are unafraid to share the value of life from conception to natural death with their congregations.

We also need prayer

  • prayer that the hearts and minds of those coming through our doors will change, 
  • prayer for our staff and volunteers who are engaging in a battle of life and death every day, 
  • and prayer for the culture of death in our state to transform into a culture of life. 

We believe that God hears and answers prayer.

And we need financial partnership. It would be impossible to operate a single ultrasound machine, pay nursing staff, and offer free pregnancy tests without the financial support of generous churches and individuals throughout our community. For Mosaic Health, the past 37 years has been a testament to how unified, life-affirming advocates can transform people and save lives for generations of families to come.

By / Jun 14

“Life is precious.” 

We repeat this phrase frequently. As believers, we know this statement pronounces a timeless truth rooted in Scripture. In Jeremiah 1:5, the Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I sanctified you.” This gift of life, given to each of us by God from the moment of conception, is sacred and worthy of fervent prayers, our strongest advocacy, and our sincerest acts of service.

That is why this Commission has sought to help culture understand not just the meaning of, but the responsibilities that spring forth from the phrase, “life is precious.”

In 2023, we helped explain the historic Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision of the Supreme Court that struck down the hideous Roe v. Wade precedent. As the justices did so, they opened up a new chapter for the pro-life movement that we have long prayed for.

While we have continued our urgent work to protect life on Capitol Hill and before our nation’s highest court, I want to briefly draw your attention to the cooperative ways this Commission has been active, not just in areas of policy, but also practical ministry.

In the last year, we have locked arms with conventions in North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, the Southern Baptists of Texas, and the SBC of Virginia, who have all given generously to the life-saving work of our Psalm 139 Project.

And it is fitting that the annual meeting is in Louisiana, as our next ultrasound placement will be in partnership with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home, and the Northshore Baptist Association. These entities have come together, not only as an outstanding example of Baptist cooperation, but also to send a strong signal that we are willing to put our money where our heart is in order to save lives and serve mothers.

The commitment we have to protect life has guided our work at the state and national levels. In partnership with our state conventions, we brought a distinctively Baptist voice to matters important to our churches in our first ever state-level public policy review. We did this through:

  • requesting new safeguards be put in place to protect children from harmful transgender surgeries and destructive interventions in Tennessee;
  • pushing back against school administrators’ attempts to insert themselves in the relationship between a parent and child, both in Iowa and Wisconsin;
  • and standing with Nevada Baptists to successfully urge the governor to reject a bill to make that state a destination for assisted suicide.

At the federal level, we have been a leading voice in opposition to the Biden administration’s efforts to curtail religious liberty and conscience protections through the consequential federal rule-making process.

And overseas, we worked to strengthen this nation’s resolve to oppose authoritarian regimes that assault human dignity, destroy religious freedom, and help those fleeing persecution.

In all these matters, the ERLC is rooted in Scripture, guided by the Baptist Faith & Message, and informed by our convention’s resolutions. And everything we do is grounded in the simple phrase: Life is precious.

That truth has taken on new meaning for me, because the worst day of my life occurred on March 27, when a deranged individual entered the school of my children and opened fire. It would end as the deadliest school shooting in Tennessee history and be added to a horrific list of similar events that continue to plague our society.

Six precious lives were lost.  Seven families were fractured. And each and every child was rendered vulnerable by a person in deep emotional and psychological distress who was in desperate need of help and intervention.

In the following weeks and months, the Lord, who has graciously sustained our family throughout this nightmare, has worked on my heart and opened my eyes to the ways our culture of anger and animosity can so quickly become one of annihilation. Think about all the ways this occurs:

  • The mother who is convinced by a culture of death that the only way to truly thrive is by taking the life of her unplanned child. 
  • The young boy who has his mind preyed upon by social media and unhinged activists to become a pawn in the sexual revolution’s ever-changing definition of gender to the point he thinks he is a girl. 
  • The out-of-work father who, lacking community and neighborly love, chooses to escape into a drug culture rather than support his family. 
  • Or a survivor of abuse who seeks refuge in the church only to become vilified because of some flimsy Pharisaical or political excuse. 

There are many more examples of the ways our lives are rendered vulnerable on a daily basis. Too many. And the Lord is revealing to me all the ways he wants this Commission—and our SBC churches—to be a voice for the voiceless, to speak up for the marginalized, and to be a servant for the widow, the orphan, and the vulnerable.

When I see the three little survivors of the Covenant School shooting in my own home every day, I know that I cannot be quiet and cannot stand idly by while our culture tears itself apart, because life is precious. Far too precious.

By / Jan 26

The post-Roe world we live in is a fulfillment of the faithful work of pro-life advocates for 50 years. While there is certainly more work to be done to end abortion in all 50 states, it is a moment for celebration. Just as abortion existed before Roe v. Wade tragically made it legal, the pro-life movement faces an abortion industry committed to furthering a regime that ends life at all costs, with “abortion tourism” and the abortion pill making it easier than ever to evade bans and restrictions in the United States.

With that in mind, in addition to making abortion illegal, we must turn our focus to serving and supporting families.

Messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention committed to “partnering with local, state, and federal governments to enact pro-life and pro-family policies that serve and support vulnerable women, children, and families” in order to “eliminate any perceived need for the horror of abortion,” during its annual meeting in June 2022.

Our goal is not just for abortion to be illegal but for it to be viewed as an unthinkable act of cruelty by all of our neighbors and for our nation to truly embody a culture of life.

A scriptural foundation

God has spoken clearly throughout Scripture: Every human being is created in the image of God and possesses immeasurable dignity and worth; Every aspect of his design for human life in accordance with his will is good (Gen. 1:26-30). In the beginning, we see the institution of marriage—one man and one woman for life—as something that God creates for our good (Gen. 2). The married couple is then instructed to bear fruit and multiply as part of God’s plan for their flourishing (Gen 1:28; Ps. 127:3). 

The biblical framework for the nuclear family is a desirable end, and the good work of protecting and promoting the family in all its biblical forms is central to the ethic, life, and mission of the church. Local churches—and the parents, teachers, counselors, and foster care and adoptive families within them—walk alongside couples through difficult times, aid in the discipleship of their children, and help bring healing to broken families and hope to forgotten children. 

This pro-family work is invaluable and an essential part of our calling individually and collectively. Even as culture changes, Southern Baptists must remain committed to advancing a distinctly Christian vision for the family in the public square and safeguarding the integrity of this crucial biblical institution for the good of our neighbor.

Current realities

As a nation, our policies incentivize what we want more of and disincentivize what we want less of. The allocation of resources, as well as how we structure our tax code, reveal where our national priorities lie.

Currently, many of our policies economically disincentivize marriage.

Similarly, our laws make abortion incredibly less difficult and less expensive than adoption. According to Planned Parenthood, the cost of an abortion is generally less than $750. Meanwhile, the average cost of an adoption can run between $20,000–$50,000. Little has been done to combat the soaring costs of childcare, housing, food, and other necessities that greatly affect families. Due to inflation, it is estimated that raising a child through high school now costs approximately $300,000. Moreover, financial insecurity is cited by 73% of women who choose to have an abortion as the primary driver of their choice.

For Christians, these realities should represent a sobering challenge.

If we truly value life, family, and marriage, then we should advocate for laws that do the same, thereby making it easier for citizens of our country to choose these good things. While we will continue to work relentlessly through policy and law to make abortion illegal across the country, that simply is not enough. To create a culture of life, we must also redouble our efforts to holistically care for women and families in times of crisis and prioritize support for the flourishing of families. 

A vision for a pro-family world

As part of that commitment to bolstering the institution of the family, we should advocate for creative and responsible policies that remove unnecessary legal or economic roadblocks to marriage, ensure families—with an emphasis on abortion-vulnerable women—have the resources to parent their children, and promote full participation of both parents in the raising of children. Though the state can never be a replacement for the vital work of the church in supporting families, it is an important component that cannot be ignored (Rom. 13). 

In the post-Dobbs world, there has been growing support among lawmakers from both parties to do more to support women in crisis and families. Additionally, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy indicated that if Republicans retook the House in November—which they did by a narrow margin—their pro-family framework would be a legislative priority. There is much to still be debated on which of these policies are best and which can find the necessary bipartisan support to become law, but it is encouraging that many members of Congress are beginning to recognize a need for programs that support families and are thinking creatively on how best to do that. 

As we consider these proposals, the ERLC will advocate for policy changes that strengthen families and marriages, promote the well-being of children, recognize the dignity of work, and wisely steward financial resources.

To that end, we would strongly encourage lawmakers to develop policies in the following areas that would vastly improve the ability to raise a child and ensure families can flourish: 

  • Legislation that provides abortion-vulnerable women with information about all of their options and avenues for support, countering the false notion that abortion is their only choice. 
  • Policies that protect pregnant women in the workplace and allow them to safely continue providing for their families throughout pregnancy. 
  • Policies that bolster the important work of pregnancy resource centers and fund them to care for women in need. 
  • Policies that eliminate tax code discrimination against the traditional family and reduce the onerous tax burden on families with children. 
  • Strategic aid programs targeted to low-income mothers and families that stimulate economic stability and independence, sparking sustainable, communal financial growth trends while also ensuring that the necessary resources are available around the birth of a child. 
  • Adoption of policies that provide a baseline of security for new families to bond with their children without economic harm. 
  • Collaborative partnerships between civil society and government that bolster social support and increase excellence, availability, and affordability in maternal healthcare and childcare without trampling on conscience rights. 
  • And policies that make adoption more affordable and accessible

We long for a world where a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy would have such overwhelming support from her community that she feels confident that she can keep and raise her child. We desire for our nation’s laws to incentivize family formation and prioritize using our resources to support families. Ultimately, we seek justice and flourishing for our neighbors so that they may see and seek the joy, fulfillment, and eternal life only found in Christ. Public policy that prioritizes the family serves that end and is an essential piece in creating a culture that truly values life.

View the latest issue of Light magazine here.

By / Jan 25

Last Friday, thousands of enthusiastic individuals from every corner of the pro-life movement gathered on the National Mall for the March for Life. This year was my first March, but many around me had traveled hundreds of miles each January for 50 years. This time, they gathered with a sense of victory in light of the overturning of Roe—but also with a solemn awareness that there will always be reason to keep going. 

Now that the movement’s igniting cause has been settled, many wondered if the March would continue. On Friday, the organization’s leader Jeanne Mancini asked the eager attendees, “Should we still march?” The crowd responded with cheers and excitement because most are all too aware of the work left to be done. Conversations throughout the day centered on the tragedy of increasing access to abortion pills that undermines state-level abortion bans, the newfound importance of pro-life state legislators, and ultimately, the task of affecting “hearts and minds” of our neighbors who are blind to the innate value of a human life.

I came away from this moving experience with three important reminders.

Praise God for our freedoms: I’m thankful that the ERLC is present in conversations about preserving religious freedom. 

No matter what happens next, we are free to raise our voices to defend the defenseless. Looking around at friends and strangers lifting up their voices as well as their banners was a moving experience. One of the most powerful moments was when a woman named Casey who has Down syndrome spoke on stage about the amazing opportunities she has had and the love and joy in her family. “I love my life!”, she exclaimed. In our global context, petitioning the government with hope and joy is a rare sight, and one to be treasured. 

Embrace interfaith and interdenominational efforts: The pro-life movement is a team effort and an opportunity to unite with our neighbors. 

The March for Life embodies unity among differences—it is a tapestry of diverse yet allied voices from many religions, and especially many Christian denominations. As I walked next to Jesuit, Catholic, and Lutheran brothers and sisters, just to name a few, I was inspired to learn more about their beliefs and lifestyles. I was challenged to see them as teammates instead of strangers with whom I see differently on important theological matters.

We may have different approaches to defending the defenseless, but it is our collective efforts at the local level that affect individual decisions for life.

Proceed faithfully: Our pro-life work should reflect our Savior.

One reason I was hesitant about coming to the March for Life in years’ past is because I feared being associated with messages that didn’t represent the truth, grace, and mercy of Jesus. My friends who counsel post-abortive women have seen the harm of shameful messaging targeted at women who chose abortion. However, my worries about insensitivity at the March proved largely untrue, at least in 2023.

Like any collaboration of imperfect humans, there is going to be some messiness, and to those in our churches who have been shamed pre- or post-abortion, I am truly sorry. Together we must proceed faithfully, holding tightly to Jesus’ example when he interacted with those considered by society to be the worst of sinners, like in this powerful scene: 

“And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:16-17 ESV).

It was 49 years ago that that the first March for Life was held on Capitol Hill following the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973, a case that fabricated a Constitutional “right to abortion” and led to abortion access in every state. Since then, the pro-life community has opened pregnancy care centers, called on members of Congress to enact policies that help inform mothers about abortion and its alternatives, adopted children who were born into adversity, and faithfully marched. Every single year, whether in deep snow, rain, or cold, thousands have marched to stand up for the rights of the voiceless in the United States.  

Throughout my lifetime, I hope to see many victories for the preborn, for the disabled community, for those at the end of life, and others who are silenced and prevented from living the life God gave them. When the decisions don’t go our way, we must continue to exercise our freedoms to assemble and petition. When enemies try to divide our movement and our churches with strife, we must remain unified and focused. When we make judgements and mistakes in the process, we must proceed faithfully, centered on the compassion of Christ.

Moving forward, the movement will change with policy and culture, and the essential work of Southern Baptist churches and the broader pro-life movement must continue. My experience at the March inspired me to keep going until abortion is unthinkable in America and around the world, and I hope you will too.

By / Jan 18

The March For Life will take place this week in Washington, D.C., beginning on the National Mall and proceeding to the steps of the Supreme Court. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children walk this path to advocate for the dignity and protection of human life, especially in its most vulnerable form, that of life in the womb. This year, they will also in march in celebration of the historic overturning of Roe v. Wade.

I was fortunate to be among those who marched a few years ago, and as we made our way through the streets, past monolithic buildings, and historic landmarks in our nation’s capital, I thought about what would come next, after the march was over. When the peaceful chants could no longer be heard and the decorated signs displaying pro-life views had been stacked in the recycling bins, as we all climbed into Ubers or hurried into local coffee shops and restaurants to rest our legs or escape the cold, would we find ourselves decidedly more pro-life than before the march began?

I hope the answer is yes. It is for me. While the march is a powerful and even emotional experience, I am challenged to not let a demonstration be the end of my pro-life advocacy for the year. Even while Roe has been overturned, there are many involved in the ongoing work needed to ensure that our government be held more accountable for protecting human dignity for all. There are also heroes among us who are serving tirelessly in pregnancy centers and clinics, not to mention the countless ministries and churches who commit to serving the women and men in crisis due to unplanned pregnancies each year.

If spending a few days in Washington taught me anything, it was that the opportunities to stand for life are endless. Even when we are not participating in organized efforts, our call as Christians to love our neighbors and and our belief that every person is created in the image of God compels us to live pro-life. 

What your church can do

As I think about what this looks like in a practical sense, and how the application of a gospel-based pro-life ethic will look different for every person, I’m brought to the realization that this all comes together within the context of the local church. Sometimes churches, and especially church leaders, may feel as if pro-life ministry is yet another work they ought to be doing, while at the same time feel they are failing miserably.

However, the more I consider how my own church can do a better job of fostering a pro-life culture, the more I’m convinced that the steps are small and doable for almost any pastor, leader, or member to begin today. Here are a few that come to mind:

1. Look for and support the pro-life efforts already happening in your church

There is a good chance that church members in your congregation are already engaged passionately in fighting for life. Begin having conversations with your members, asking around for anyone who is involved in ministries like foster care, pregnancy center support, or serving those with special needs. If your church actively preaches the gospel and teaches a Christian worldview, it is very likely that disciples of Christ are already at work. As church leaders, we have the opportunity to encourage and empower them (Eph. 4:12).

It can be difficult to gain traction quickly when launching a new ministry or focus in your church, especially when you and your fellow staff or volunteers are busy with the administrative duties of running a church. Rely on your church members already carrying the baton to let you know where the pro-life work is happening and how the church can better resource its members to engage even more deeply in those efforts.

2. Teach a whole-life, pro-life view to your church members 

It is impossible to teach the Word of God accurately and miss God’s desire for human flourishing. Genesis to Revelation reveal that he is the author of our lives, faith, and salvation; so, we must obey his commands. From the senior pastor down to the small group Bible study leader, the local church needs to teach a pro-life ethic that is consistent with and rooted in Scripture.

As church leaders, we have a responsibility to help people see their own role in caring about human dignity and the protection of life, especially in its most vulnerable forms. It’s not “too political” to advocate for issues of life from the pulpit when your authority is the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and your church is filled with grace and love for people who have not always valued life.

3. Commit to educating yourself and your people toward a fuller pro-life ethic

In the same way that we grow in the understanding and knowledge of God when we read and learn his Word, we have an opportunity to grow in understanding on many issues surrounding the protection and flourishing of life. As leaders or members in the church, we need to be learners, not to be inflated by knowledge but to live and work for the good of those around us who might see our good deeds and give glory to God (Matt. 5:16).

Attend a conference, and learn from professionals working to advance life across the board: in special needs ministry and advocacy, in immigration reform, in human trafficking rescue, and in anti-abortion legislation. We cannot be experts in everything, or even several things. Inviting church members, perhaps even paying their way when resources allow, to join you in educating yourself on issues of life sends a strong message that you care about human dignity and how to better incorporate a pro-life ethic into your church and city.

4. Evaluate the priorities of your church

As a church leader, you carry the important and difficult responsibility of deciding which environments and programs your church will offer to foster discipleship. Strategic decision-making is important in churches that want to see growth in Christ. As such, it is important to ask if your church shares opportunities for members to engage in pro-life work, whether formally through set ministries or informally by sharing stories of church members engaged in parachurch ministry.

This is not to say that if your church doesn’t have a full-blown orphan care ministry complete with its own budget and staff that your church isn’t fulfilling the commands of Scripture. For example, our church supports ministries like our local pregnancy center through financial giving, participating in local advocacy efforts, and by encouraging church members to volunteer. We know that their staff is doing work that our church is not equipped to do on its own.

However, if we find that we are caring for our members without equipping them to live on mission, then we need to re-evaluate. What’s more, if we find that our ministries are catering to the comfort and satisfaction of our church members and not to reaching out to a lost culture around us, then it’s time to repent.

5. Celebrate the diversity of opportunities for pro-life ministry

We need every member of the body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission and help build the church (1 Cor. 12). We also need every follower of Christ to envision a world that values the sanctity and dignity of human life, and to work toward that end. There are wonderful and abundant opportunities to engage in pro-life work.

In my former church in the states, I knew of members pursuing adoption, fostering children, counseling survivors of sex trafficking, volunteering at the local pregnancy center, caring for refugees, and preparing to move overseas to share the gospel in foreign places. If you see a lack of energy in your church toward pro-life causes, it’s time to practice what you preach.

Starting a ministry isn’t the only way to support pro-life work—host a foster care education class, take a small group to your local pregnancy center to volunteer, or give to a supply drive for single moms choosing life. These needs exist in our communities, and unless we make the theoretical practical for our church members, a pro-life worldview won’t connect as deeply as when the stories and testimonies are coming from our own church members.

The March For Life is held in January to coincide with the Supreme Court Case of Roe, the outcome of which legalized abortion in the United States. For almost 50 years, the conviction that every human being deserves life has made its way through the heart of our nation’s capital. And God has honored the millions of prayers for preborn children in the overturning of Roe. Now, our prayers and work turn to the state level where we proclaim the absolute sanctity of every human life.

God is still listening, and he has not been silent. No one is more pro-life than God, and in his great mercy and love for his people, he has also extended grace to those who have chosen abortion or compromised the dignity of a human life. Nothing is more pro-life than the gospel, and so gospel work is pro-life work. In our freedom and our ability to do so, we, as followers of Christ, must pray and consider how we will enter into this work individually and corporately. The needs are great and the opportunities are abundant. Let’s make sure our churches are the places where women and children are most dignified for God’s glory.

By / Jan 6

The events of 2022 had an effect on many issues that we will be dealing with in this new year. Four stories related to ERLC concerns that you should watch in 2023 are:

  1. Abortion after Roe v. Wade
  2. Legislation in a divided government
  3. A religious liberty Supreme Court case
  4. The SBC’s formal response to sexual abuse

Find out more below.

Abortion after Roe v. Wade

The overturning of Roe v. Wade in last year’s Dobbs decision marked a true turning point for the pro-life movement, a moment that Christians, advocates, and many others worked toward tirelessly for 50 years. 

Now, the pro-life movement will be faced with other challenges to protect life in the womb. 

A key issue is how we will deal with “medication” abortion. 

In 2020, abortion via pills rather than surgery accounted for the majority of all United States abortions for the first time in the pills’ 20-year history. Reinforcing access to these medication abortions was one of the Biden administration’s first responses to the fall of Roe. President Joe Biden “directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to identify all ways to ensure that mifepristone [one of the two drugs used in pill-based abortions] is as widely accessible as possible.” 

This week, the Justice Department cleared the U.S. Postal Service to deliver abortion drugs to states that have strict limits on abortion. But states may be able to fight back by prosecuting people who send abortion pills through such mailings. In addition, as Jason Thacker explains, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a regulatory change this week that allows pharmacy chains and local pharmacies to distribute the first of the two-stage abortion pill regiment known as Mifepristone

Legislation in a divided government

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the GOP controls the majority by only 10 votes (222-213), while in the Senate the split is 49-49 with independents who caucus with the Democrats. 

The result is that neither party will be able to pass any major partisan pieces of legislation this year. 

Lack of bipartisan support will also prevent anything from being passed other than funding requirements (debt ceiling, farm bill, government funding, etc.). 

One possible long-shot exception is immigration reform. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) have proposed legislation that would increase spending on border security by more than $25 billion, provide pay raises to Border Patrol agents, extending Title 42 for at least a year, creating regional centers to swiftly process asylum claims, and provide a pathway to citizenship for 2 million immigrant “Dreamers” who came to the U.S. as children. 

(Note: A key part of ERLC’s policy agenda is support of a permanent solution for Dreamers, the young immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents and that remain without permanent legal status despite having broken no laws.) 

A religious liberty Supreme Court case 

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue its ruling in 303 Creative v. Elenis, an important case for free speech and religious liberty. 

The case involves Lorie Smith, founder of the web design firm 303 Creative, who challenged a Colorado law that violates her First Amendment rights. It is the same law that was used to target Jack Phillips and which led to the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. In that case, the Court ruled favorably for Jack Phillips on narrow grounds but failed to address the underlying conflict between anti-discrimination laws and free speech rights. 

This case has significant implications for the free speech of all people. If the court rules against Smith, it would establish a precedent that artists can be forced to create and communicate messages that violate their beliefs.  

The SBC’s formal response to sexual abuse

At the 2022 SBC annual meeting, a 288-page report was released by a task force commissioned to address allegations of sexual abuse by senior members of the denomination’s Executive Committee, mishandling of abuse allegations, and mistreatment of victims.

During the annual meeting in New Orleans this June, SBC messengers will likely be asked to address some or all of the recommendations outlined in the report. 

Some of the recommendations are:

  • Forming an Independent Commission and later establishing a permanent Administrative Entity to oversee comprehensive long-term reforms concerning sexual abuse and related misconduct within the SBC.
  • Creating and maintaining an Offender Information System to alert the community to known offenders. Make the OIS available to churches on a voluntary basis.
  • Providing a comprehensive Resource Toolbox including protocols, training, education, and practical information.
  • Creating a voluntary self-certification program for churches, local associations, state conventions, and entities based on the implementation of “best practices” to bring awareness to, and enhance prevention of, sexual abuse.
  • Improving governance controls, including the use of enhanced background checks, Letters of Good Standing, and Codes of Conduct to voluntarily strengthen hiring standards and improve governance.